On the Origin of Snakes

photo credit: MrClean1982 via photopin cc
photo credit: MrClean1982 via photopin cc

Snakes feature heavily in human stories of creation, from the serpent that tempted Adam and Eve to the Australian aboriginal Rainbow Snake. This story tells that the Rainbow Snake rose out of the ground and formed the shape of the land with the movements of her massive body.

It is the aborigines’ story that comes closest to the truth. Researchers have recently found that all snakes originated from a underground-dwelling reptile that left its habitat and over time evolved into the huge number of snake species alive today.

John J. Wiens, Associate Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook University, led a team that studied the genes of 161 species of snakes and lizards. The team found that all snake species descended from a group of burrowing blind snakes called scolecophidians. Snakes are characterised by this animal’s short tail and elongated body, which they have retained through all other adaptations to new habitats.

Perhaps the Rainbow Snake was also blind.

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